Pittsburgh Line

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Pittsburgh Line
Type Freight rail and passenger rail
System Norfolk Southern, Amtrak
Status Operational
Locale western and central Pennsylvania
Termini CP-Harrisburg in Harrisburg
CP-West Pitt in Pittsburgh
Owner Norfolk Southern
Operator(s) Norfolk Southern, Amtrak
Line length 248 mi (399 km)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

The Pittsburgh Line is the Norfolk Southern Railway's primary east–west artery in its Pittsburgh Division and Harrisburg Division across the state of Pennsylvania. Formerly the Pennsylvania Railroad's (PRR) Middle Division main line, the Pittsburgh Line spans 248 miles (399 km) between the state capitol in Harrisburg and its namesake city of Pittsburgh, crossing the Allegheny Mountains through the Gallitzin Tunnels west of Altoona and the famous Horseshoe Curve in the process. Its east end is marked with the railroad's Harrisburg Line to Reading and Philadelphia, and the Fort Wayne Line on its west end to Conway, Pennsylvania and points west in Ohio and Indiana.[1] The Pittsburgh Line is arguably Norfolk Southern's busiest freight corridor, where 50 to 70 trains traverse the line daily.

Major terminals

The Pittsburgh Line is marked with three major freight terminals on both of its ends. On its east end, Harrisburg Terminal handles a bulk of the railroads intermodal traffic, with a handful intermodal trains originating and terminating there. Across the Susquehanna River in Enola is Norfolk Southern’s major freight terminal in the Greater Harrisburg area; Enola Yard, which handles almost all manifest freight traffic that passes through the area. Many of the Pittsburgh Line’s manifest freight trains originate or terminate here, with a few continuing south to Baltimore, Maryland and points east, while others bypass Enola and cross the Rockville Bridge over the Susquehanna to Harrisburg bound for Allentown, Pennsylvania and points east.

On its west end, the Pittsburgh Line becomes the Fort Wayne Line after crossing the Allegheny River Bridge, where trains travel a short distance of 23 miles (37 km) to reach Conway Yard. Conway is the hub of activity in Western Pennsylvania, where many trains originate and terminate, with many of those trains being the same freight trains that originate and terminate at Enola Yard, respectively. Conway is the hub of operations for Norfolk Southern in the Greater Pittsburgh area, featuring a hump yard and a crew change point for virtually all Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne Line trains.


Eastbound intermodal train on the Pittsburgh Line in Newport

From Harrisburg/Enola, the railroad travels west following the path of the Susquehanna River parallel to U.S. Route 11/15, passing through the communities of Marysvile, Cove, and Duncannon. At Duncannon, the Pittsburgh Line leaves the Susquehanna and follows the path of the smaller Juniata River, of which it will follow for much of its length to Altoona, unofficially dubbed the "Middle Division". U.S. Route 22 follows the route for much of its length here. Once at Altoona, the railroad arrives at the base of the Allegheny Mountain Front, of which it must climb over to reach Johnstown and Pittsburgh.

Altoona is the site of Norfolk Southern’s Juniata Shops, the largest locomotive repair facility on the NS system. Originally constructed by the PRR in 1850, this large complex of shops is what gave the city of Altoona its worth and structure.

Leaving Altoona, the railroad travels at a 1.76% grade up the east slope of the Alleghenies, negotiating the famous Horseshoe Curve during that climb. Past the curve, the Pittsburgh Line continues to climb a grade of 1.86% to the small town of Gallitzin, where the mainline reaches the top of its climb at 2,167 feet (661 m) above sea level, the total westward climb amounting to 12 miles (19 km). From there, the railroads descends the Alleghenies' west slope down to Johnstown, a total distance of about 25 miles (40 km). From Johnstown, the Pittsburgh Line follows the path of the Conemaugh River on both of its banks to Conpit Junction, where the line divides. Westbound and lighter eastbound trains take the again-graded Pittsburgh Line west towards Pittsburgh, while heavier eastbound trains take the Conemaugh Line on an easier routing from Pittsburgh, which continues to follow the Conemaugh River. The Conemaugh Line joins back in with the Pittsburgh Line at CP-PENN in Pittsburgh. The line’s westernmost end is at CP-WEST PITT by Pittsburgh's Amtrak station, where it crosses the Allegheny River to form the Fort Wayne Line.

Allegheny Mountains and Horseshoe Curve

Three Norfolk Southern freight trains pass each other on the Horseshoe Curve in 2006.

Until reaching Altoona, the Pittsburgh Line is a double-track mainline from Duncannon. Once at Altoona, a third track is added for the climb up the Allegheny Mountains. The line goes back to two at Conpit Junction, where the Conemaugh Line remains a single-track route.

The east slope of Norfolk Southern’s climb traverses remote mountainous terrain at a grade of about 1.8%. Roughly halfway up the westward ascent lies the engineering marvel of Horseshoe Curve. Originally constructed by the PRR in 1854, the 220-degree curve was the solution for the railroad to gain enough elevation around a valley to reach the higher land across to continue west. Constructed mainly by immigrants, the curve was built by cutting into the hillside around Kittanning Point and filling in the necessary places for the railroad right-of-way to be laid. Today, the curve functions as a tourist attraction for both railroad enthusiasts and the rest of the public, and is a magnet for drawing visitors from all over the globe. It currently is on the list of National Historic Sites, and boasts a visitors park in the apex of the curve adjacent to the Pittsburgh Line tracks, as well as a visitors center and gift shop.

Past the curve, the Pittsburgh Line continues west to Gallitzin, passing through MG Interlocking a mile west of Horseshoe Curve, whose old PRR interlocking tower is also on the historic register, though is off-limits to the public. East of Gallitzin, the railroad passes through Bennington Curve, the site of PRR passenger wreck in 1947 killing 16 people and injuring over 100. Past Bennington Curve at a railroad timetable station called "SF", the three tracks split. Tracks 2 (bi-directional) and 3 (westward) continue on towards Gallitzin at their same ascent, while Track 1 (eastward) diverges up a 2.46% grade known as "The Slide", which is a downhill-only track restricting trains to traveling no more than 12 miles per hour (19 km/h) over its steep grade. Both sets of main tracks pass through tunnels to exit and crest in the town of Gallitzin. Tracks 2 and 3 pass through the new Allegheny Tunnel, while Track 1 passes through the New Portage Tunnel. A third tunnel can be seen; the Gallitzin Tunnel, which used to house Track 3 before the Allegheny Tunnel was heightened and widened to house Tracks 2 and 3 as well as doublestack container traffic on intermodal trains in 1994. Upon its completion in 1995, the Gallitzin Tunnel was officially closed.

Past Gallitzin, the railroad passes through the small town of Cresson, where all of the Pittsburgh Line's tracks come back together. Here is also where a locomotive helper base is located, as well as interchange(s) with the RJ Corman Railroad. Also located in Cresson is the Station Inn, a bed and breakfast run exclusively for railroad enthusiasts, which features a long sheltered porch showing a close and clear view of the Pittsburgh Line tracks.

Past Cresson, the railroad passes down the Alleghenies’ west slope and through the towns of Lilly, Cassandra, Portage, Wilmore, Summerhill, South Fork, Mineral Point, Parkhill, and East Conemaugh before reaching Johnstown at the bottom of the mountain. South Fork is the junction of the South Fork Secondary, a coal route used to reach local mines in the area which generates a train or two a day bound for various destinations.


Helpers on the rear of an intermodal train entering the Gallitzin Tunnel

Helper locomotives are used by Norfolk Southern to assist heavy trains over mountainous portions of the Pittsburgh Line. Helper crews are mainly based in Altoona and Conemaugh/Johnstown, though some helpers are called as far away as Pittsburgh. For many years, EMD SD40-2 locomotives held down pusher duties in the Altoona Helper Pool until 2009, where newer SD40E locomotives constructed by Juniata began to phase out the older locomotive models. The SD40E's finally filled the ranks of the SD40-2's in the summer of 2010. Both locomotive models are rated at 3,000 horsepower (2,200 kW), and are either used in pairs or pairings of pairs, the latter are known as "4-Bangers" on the mountain by the local railfans in the immediate and surrounding areas.

Passenger operations

Today, a pair of Amtrak passenger trains is the only passenger service that remains on the Pittsburgh Line. Amtrak's Pennsylvanian trains make the following Pennsylvania station stops on the Pittsburgh Line: Harrisburg, Lewistown, Huntingdon, Tyrone, Altoona, Johnstown, Latrobe, Greensburg, and Pittsburgh.

In May 2013 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agreed to $3.8 million in funding to subsidize the passenger line.[2]

See also


  1. Norfolk Southern (2008). "Pittsburgh Division."; "Harrisburg Division." Track charts.
  2. State commits annual $3.8M to Pittsburgh-Harrisburg Amtrak line. TribLIVE (2013-05-24). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.